Hot springs and a beautiful canyon make this Wyoming city a natural choice for a relaxing stay.
By Anna Lee Braunstein, F351629
“Ahh” is the most popular sound in Thermopolis, Wyoming. Most “ahhs” emanate with the steam that floats from the thermal baths that gave Thermopolis — “Hot City” in Greek — its name. But it’s best to wait and enjoy the rest of the town before dipping into these ancient hot waters, because a relaxing soak in them may lead to a nice, long nap.
Many other places in and near Thermopolis also induce “ahh” comments. Just driving into town from the south is an experience, as a portion of U.S. 20 is often called the prettiest drive in Wyoming. The Wind River Canyon National Scenic Byway winds through the steep, jagged cliffs of a spectacular canyon, 2,500 feet in height and a billion years in creation. The rock walls are made of black and pink dolomite and glittering crystalline faults. One stop along the 34-mile drive is “The Wedding of the Waters,” where Wind River becomes the Bighorn River, named for the bighorn sheep reintroduced to the area in 1995. Be sure to have binoculars with you.
Visitors who have time to stay awhile can check out opportunities for fishing, floating, and whitewater rafting. The rafting trips are under the auspices of members of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Indian tribes. In addition, hiking and backpacking opportunities are excellent, and interpretive signs near canyon walls explain the geology. For all, the natural beauty is its own reward.
In Thermopolis, the Hot springs and a beautiful canyon make this Wyoming city a natural choice for a relaxing stay. also offers beautiful scenery. The Riverside Walkway starts at Swinging Bridge, which combines a magnificent view with an exhilarating walk. The trail goes past Rainbow Terraces, places where algae-created swirls gleam in the blue-green river. Fish, turtles, birds, bison, and deer dwell in and along the waters. A challenging path climbs up to Round Top Mountain. Bison graze near T Hill Trail. And the Broadway Street Bridge leads to shops with names such as Lucy’s Sheep Camp, Storyteller, White Horse Country Store, and Hazel and Pearl’s. The Dancing Bear Folk Center boasts the largest teddy bear museum in the West. A variety of restaurants serve delicious local cuisine.
Wyoming’s newest local product, whiskey, may draw some visitors’ attention. Following the colorful, and sometimes notorious, tradition of the Old West, the first legal distillery in the state opened in late 2012 in Kirby, 12 miles from Thermopolis. The maker of Wyoming Whiskey follows techniques honed in the hills of Kentucky, but he uses 100 percent Wyoming water and grain in the mash. Tours and tastings are available six days a week.
Wyoming is one of the richest sites for fossil remains in the United States. In tribute, it even has a state dinosaur, the Triceratops, and a state fossil, the Knightia (a fish). The area once resounded with the calls and cries of prehistoric creatures. Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Supersaurus roamed this land millions of years ago. Their magnificent remains can be examined in Thermopolis at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.
The center owes its existence to an amateur fossil hunter who found a cache of dinosaur bones right in this area during the 1990s. The museum has displays and dioramas presenting these ancient creatures as they might have lived millions of years ago. The center houses several rare fossils, including the small Archaeopteryx from Bavaria, Germany, and Montana’s Albertaceratops, the only one of its kind on display anywhere. In addition to these finds, dinosaur skeletons from Scotland, Brazil, China, and beyond are displayed. In the Hall of Dinosaurs, life-sized specimens attack prey and wage battle. The Walk through Time exhibit traces the evolutionary path from early life-forms to dinosaurs and mammals.
For a fee, visitors of all ages can hunt in a fossil-rich area right alongside the pros. A few miles from the Wyoming Dinsaur Center in Wind River Canyon is a site affiliated with the center where fossils are continually being found. The Dig for a Day program starts at the museum and then buses participants out to the dig site for an all-day adventure. Youth ages 8 to 12 can go on their own Kids’ Dig, and adults with less time available can join the Shovel Ready half-day excursion.
Long after the dinosaurs roamed, people created petroglyphs at what is now known as Legend Rock Petroglyph Site. There, you can see nearly 300 different carvings on panels of sandstone. The distinctive pictures on the rock — most of which are within eye level —were created from 10,000 or so years ago up to the time of the European settlers. Some depict animals that roamed the land; others show human-like creatures wearing headdresses, hanging upside down, having extra fingers or toes. Many have lines on their bodies. The petroglyphs were created by “pecking,” a technique of striking the rock surface with stone chisels or hammers. Legend Rock is one of the best petroglyph sites in the world and offers visitors an excellent opportunity to view these mysterious and beautiful creations.
It takes a bit of effort to enter the site, as it is under security to protect it from vandalism. Permits and key access are available at the Hot Springs State Park headquarters, the State Bath House at the park, or the Thermopolis-Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce. The opportunity to see these rare and outstanding drawings is worth the slight inconvenience.
The Legion Town and Country Golf Course has some uncommon obstacles on its nine holes. The course, located near the Hot Springs County Airport, shares its greens with marmots, fox, deer, and other four-legged hazards. The beauty of the course and its views of town more than make up for any possible critter encounters.
June is a “hot” time to visit Thermopolis. The annual Hot Spot Car Rally is scheduled for June 15 and 16, 2013. This family event includes a parade and barbecue, and culminates with the Show ‘N Shine Car Show. The following weekend is the Thermopolis Cowboy Rendezvous PRCA Rodeo.
After all that activity, it is time for “ahh” in the area’s natural springs. Thermopolis presents three facilities that let you enjoy the warm water. All of them use water that comes from deep within layers of porous rock and blends with 27 minerals. The brew that perks up through the rock reaches 127 degrees Fahrenheit, although by the time it arrives at the pools, it is a bit cooler. Hotels and campgrounds are among the many locations where you can bask in these relaxing and healthy waters, but the Wyoming State Bath House, located in Hot Springs State Park, is the only one that was established by treaty with the Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. Among the provisions of the treaty is the requirement that the baths be free.
The water in the state park pools is kept at 104 degrees. The pools are meticulously maintained and no chemicals or local water is allowed to enter them; only mineral water. The Bath House is open daily and has locker rooms with showers. A 20-minute soak gives rise to the “ahh” that symbolizes a time well-enjoyed in Thermopolis.
Two other facilities at the state park are commercial enterprises. At Star Plunge, swimmers swoop down the water slide. Open since 1900, this family adventure has hot and cool mineral water pools, a steam cave, a high dive board, three hot tubs, three water slides, a fitness center, and an arcade. For a reminder of all that playfulness, the gift shop offers intriguing mementos. Nearby Hellie’s TePee Spa has more of the same. If you do decide to hop into the water in Thermopolis, you will notice it has a harmless yet distinctive sulphur odor, owing to its mineral content.
Don’t miss Thermopolis’ one-of-a-kind natural history and beauty. And don’t forget to say “ahh”!
Thermopolis Chamber of Commerce
220 Park St.
P.O. Box 768
Thermopolis, WY 82443
The following may not be a complete list, so please check your campground directory or the RV Marketplace, published in the January and June issues of FMC and online at FMCA.com.
Eagle RV Park
204 Highway 20 S.
Thermopolis, WY 82443
Fountain of Youth RV Park
250 Highway 20 N.
Thermopolis, WY 82443
Wyoming Gardens RV Park
720 Shoshoni St.
Thermopolis, WY 82443